Bill Benner on sports and schools. Just the facts, mam

Dateline: Wed 30 Aug 2006

Bill Benner, a columnist for the Indianapolis Business Journal, associate director of communications for the Indiana Convention & Visitors Association, and a former sports columnist, colleague and friend from the Star, has nailed me.

Actually, he's nailed all of those who assume that taking an interest in sports cancels out education or who argue that our problems in Indy are a direct result of our huge financial commitment to sports. It's the old "it all started when the Colts came to town" spiel, and it's time to bury that dead horse.

Here is what Bill said in an email, in response to a posting I had made on AI:

"I guess I become a little agitated when "sports" becomes the convenient target on which to blame all of society's (or Indiana's) ills.

"Education begins, first and foremost, at home. Sports is not to blame for the abandonment of family and the abdication of parental responsibility.

"Sports is not to blame for the kids who arrive at school with no interest in learning. Sports is not the reason we have dropouts, gangs, guns, drugs and 14-year-old mothers.

"Greg Garrison's tired argument is that schools need to tear down their "Taj Majal" athletic facilities and devote that money to classroom spending. I always point out that schools that have outstanding athletic facilities generally also have the highest percentage of students going on to college.

"What's up with that? It's that those communities have strong parental involvement, No. 1, and place value on the development of mind and body.Those schools also tend to excel in the arts, music, debate etc.

" But back to cities. There are any numbers of cities who haven't put an emphasis on sports that still have children who are failing, neighborhoods that are crumbling, crime that is rising.

And Indianapolis is not unique in devoting resources to sports. It has been unique in its approach, so much so that other cities began to yearn to follow the Indianapolis blueprint, especially in terms of amateur sports. As I've written many times, sports is not just a frill here. It is an economic development tool that was one of the keys in yanking Indianapolis out of its Naptown days. It has generated hundreds of millions of dollars in direct

visitor spending that has ended up in the pockets of Hoosiers."

I asked Bill to address the argument that Jim Irsay should fork over some of his own millions to help pay for the Lucas Oil Stadium, now that we know we're running a red tab on that.

His response:

"I'd say if Lucas Oil Stadium was JUST a football stadium, heck yes, let him pay for it. But the Colts will only do 10 dates out of 200 per year. It's a multi-purpose facility that will generate revenue (for Hoosier pockets) far beyond its cost. The Drum Corp International World Championships, just announced last week, will bring in $100 million over 10 years. The NCAA Final Four will

generate 2-3 billion -- Billion! -- through 2039. And that's just the tip of the old iceberg. Concerts, conventions, trade shows, motor cross, religious meetings, other athletic events ... Working here, it's been a revelation to me how much the Dome gets used by stuff other than the Colts.

"However, since you bring Irsay up, read my IBJ column this Saturday. It's an open letter to Irsay that you'll find interesting because it does ask him to pony up (no pun intended)."

Case closed. As I told Bill, I grew up in an all-female household and never even listened to the 500 race until I was married. Sports simply did not exist in my world.

But having children, two sons first and then a daughter, gave me an appreciation for how amateur sports in and outside of school builds character and a competitive spirit. My husband has always said that the best sports he ever watched were the hockey games at the Coliseum when our boys were playing, or the basketball games at St. Thomas Aquinas and later cross-country at Brebeuf and North Central. I am glad our kids got to play and glad for the lessons learned, and that their interest continues today.

As for professional sports, I lived in Indy before the Colts et al landed, and Downtown was indeed a sad and dull place. I am grateful for what we have now and appreciative of the vision and tenacity to keep the dream going. I'd be a fool not to be. Thank you, Bill Benner. (But I still think you were wrong about Bob Knight). (Well, mostly wrong).

comments? ruth@ruthholladay.com

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